The number one, nosy Nelly question, stated or implied with an eyeroll.
- When are you going to stop breastfeeding?
- You're STILL breastfeeding!?
- You'll stop when he has teeth, right?
- You know, there's no nutritional value after a year.
- She doesn't take a bottle!?
- It's time to stop nursing now. You did it long enough.
- The "say-nothing-but-wrinkle-their-nose-raise-their-eyebrows-and-look-at-you" look
Ending breastfeeding is full of emotions for you and your baby.
It can be hard to be OK with all of your own feelings around weaning, let alone articulate and share them with random strangers and rude relatives.
Weaning might be forced at a few weeks or months due to lack of support, misinformation or medical cause. It might be an independent one year old too busy with his big brother to nurse. It may happen after 5 or more years of mutually satisfying breastfeeding.
Even in relationships where baby-led weaning is desired, you will swing between overwhelming love and feeling trapped. Closeness and connection can quickly turn claustrophobic with 24/7 soothing and feeding. You can dislike your larger, leaking breasts, and breastfeeding related problems like plugged ducts and mastitis, even as you love your baby's robust health, milk drunk naps, loving looks and snuggles.
The obvious neediness of a normal baby doesn't look like normal in our culture.
We pride ourself on bootstrapping independence. Many nursing mamas feel, and are told that they are somehow "causing" this innate neediness, because their baby insists on connection and reconnection with their mama. While there are many variables in personalities, babies who are breastfed longer tend to develop greater confidence, security and independence in the preschool years and later.
When asked for responses to "How long are you going to breastfeed?" Moms find many ways to answer, and their overwhelming reaction is this:
"It is an intimate question; one that shouldn't be asked!"
Rude people are everywhere and the best defense is a good offense. It can be helpful to practice a few responses. Write down ones that pop up after the offender has left. You may find a few responses here that resonate with you. Practice saying them and you will gracefully handle this question every time it pops up!
People are curious about breastfeeding.
If this might be the case, try a straightforward answer, grounded in life as you know it. You might say:
"When he's ready."
"Whenever my baby decides she's done."
"When we are both ready."
"Whenever it feels like it's time. I'll follow my baby's lead. No specific age in mind."
"Whenever my baby wants to."
"When my daughter decides to or I stop producing... whichever comes first."
"I was surprised we got to 1 year...now she's 3 so I gave up guessing. One less thing for me to worry about as far as her being a picky eater."
"When my baby is done or when she becomes too old for me to be comfortable with continuing."
"When it isn't working for us anymore. He's 3.5 years and we're still going strong... Very, very strong."
"My first was 4 when he stopped. my second just turned 3 and the baby is 9 months, so I have years left."
"My son just turned 1 and I am so done. I am slowly in the process of weaning."
"I'm hoping to make it at least a year. Anything after that will be a pleasant bonus. We'll wean whenever we're both ready after that.
Being evasive is a time honored way of subtly letting rude people know that their question is not welcome!
"In about fifteen minutes."
"After we switch sides."
Be prepared for what happened when other mamas were evasive:
"I told someone 'When he's ready' this weekend. She went all bug-eyed and said, "WHAT IF THAT'S NOT TILL HE'S FIVE?" My response was a shrug."
"When he doesn't want to anymore. I love the look on everyone's face when I say that.
Another milestone, college, is often mentioned to politely deflect the question.
"Maybe the day I drop her off at college."
"I just say college and change the subject, because it's no one's business."
"It's hard to side-lie in a dorm bed!"
"Of course if he decides to stay local as opposed to going away, say SUNY New Paltz, well, obviously we'll have reassess weaning.
'I'm sure he'll quit by middle school..."
If they don't take a mild hint? Bring out the big guns!
"When are you going to stop minding my business?"
"When you pry this baby from my cold dead hands!!!!
"Never! She's gunna breastfeed til I die."
Finally, there's nothing like confidence and personal experience to educate another:
"I would like to be completely weaned before she turns 2. I went to 18 months with my first."
"I've breastfed two kids to their second birthdays and they self-weaned. I plan on letting my baby do the same and hopefully she'll go longer than her older sisters! When my baby is done, that's when I'll stop breastfeeding."
"I remember holding my 3 year old child, who wasn't breastfed, and thinking I wouldn't be comfortable breastfeeding a child this old. Of course, it may be different with my second, because I have a breastfeeding relationship with her already....we shall see."
"I say one, but I love it so much, I don't know. I'll let her decide. I never realized what a bond it is. I love it. My hubby knows how much it means to me too, so he is good with it. We were at my mom's yesterday and I was feeding the baby on the couch. He pulled down my shirt. He was being funny! He said "I don't care if your boob is out, but cover the belly." Ha! I never thought I would hear that one."
"We are at 7 months. I would personally like to stop at 1 year, but she seems to be on her own schedule, as usual, so whatever her majesty wants, I guess her majesty gets!"
"There are days when I'm over it- when she still nurses like a newborn. She's 19 mos, but for the most part I'm so glad we're still at it!! Especially when she goes through eating strikes or when she's sick...I'll let her decide when to wean."
"I used to tell people that my minimum goal was the guideline set by World Health Organization and talk about the importance of that. If pushed, I'd tell them that my goal is baby-led weaning."
"In the end, none of my four were entirely baby-led weaned and I would have liked things to go differently. My first was 4 years 9 months and cut off cold turkey in desperation when baby-led weaning, tapering feeds slowly and discussions didn't work. It was a HUGE mistake. It affected our relationship for years. I nudged my second, third and fourth along a little faster than they were ready for, but I was never going to cut my kids off cold turkey again. The second and third were 5 years when they weaned. The last one weaned a bit before her 3rd birthday because I ran out of milk, dry nursing was very uncomfortable and she wasn't especially upset."
"When my pediatrician and I agree that the baby is no longer breastfeeding. (this puzzles them) I often had a diaper bag full of articles and research that I would offer to family members who had something to say about it. I told my MIL that when she graduated from medical school and completed her residency in Pediatrics, I would be happy to discuss the care and feeding of my child with her, but until she is a doctor I will not discuss these issues with her at all. That shut her up."
"I went to 2 1/2 last time. Not really thinking I want to do that again. We'll see how it goes."
"When baby feels like it. My first weaned around 16 months but I hope my second makes it to 2 years."
Whenever you and your baby decide to wean, whether breastfeeding is measured in days, weeks or years, know that it is a highly personal decision that is rarely based in hard facts. It's often unpredictable and complicated. When you are finished, you will have appreciation for nursing and for yourself, and probably some regrets and 20-20 hindsight. But, you will never forget how breastfeeding and weaning made you feel.
My thanks to the mamas of Café Mama's Breastfeeding Café for their wise comments and quotes.
If you are needing information about weaning your breastfed baby or child, please call/text Donna Bruschi at 845-750-4402 or read more here.